Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Teaching with Shel Silverstein

When I was a kid I was obsessed with Shel Silverstein. 

My parents had a record player and got me records of A Light on in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I listened to them so often that I memorized most of the poems. 

****Side note: If you have not heard Shel Silverstein read his own poems you are missing out! It is the same way I feel about David Sedaris. You have not heard his stories unless he has read them to you. Check out Shel Silverstein's audiobooks on iTunes for under $10!

When I was around 13 I started playing around with sketching and I tended to sketch the pictures from his books and color them in (I am many things but I am not an artist):

A few years ago I was reading a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book and I saw this which made me laugh a LOT:

Since I was so obsessed throughout my formative years, it stands to reason that it would pop up in my teaching life also!

Shel's stuff is great for figurative language, specifically:


Here are a few of the videos that I use to discuss hyperboles:

This is basically every 8th grader in the world.....every. single. day.

I have not gotten this excuse for tardies.....yet.

Although with this one, you think it is a hyperbole, but then ends up NOT being one. 

Usually at the end of this poem one of my kids will say, "Man, that kid is dumb!" which opens up the irony discussion quite nicely!


I found this great site that breaks down two of Shel's poems into different themes and asks pretty deep discussion question. I think this would be a great way to introduce theme! Non threatening texts with higher level questions!

The Giving Tree Questions for Discussion

Source: http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/The_Giving_Tree 

Topic: Giving and Altruism
The tree keeps on giving to the boy until it has nothing left to give. The boy on the other hand does not give anything to the tree.
  1. Do you think the boy is selfish? Why or why not?
  2. Is there a word for someone who keeps on giving without thinking about him/herself or expecting something in return?
  3. Why do you think the tree is not happy after giving the boy her trunk?
Topic: The Nature of Giving and Gifts
In the story, the tree gives the boy many gifts.
  1. Have you ever given something away and later wished that you hadn’t?
  2. Is it easier to give something away if the receiver truly appreciates the gift? 
  3. When you give something to someone, do you expect something in return? 
  4. When you are given something, do you feel that you owe something to the person who gave you the gift?
  5. Would you give something you really need to someone you love if they really need it, too?
The giving tree img2.jpg
Topic: The Nature of Love
Early in the book, we read that the tree loved the boy.
  1. Why do you think the tree loved the boy in the beginning?
  2. Why do you think the boy loved the tree?
  3. Are the two “loves” the same type of love?
  4. Do people need to have a reason to love someone?
  5. Do you treat people that you love differently from the ones that you don’t?
  6. When you love someone, how do you show him or her that you love them?
  7. Have you ever been angry with someone you love because they went away for a while, or because they did something you did not like?
  8. Can you be angry with someone and love them at the same time?
Topic: Happiness
The tree is not really happy after giving the boy her trunk.
  1. Is the boy happy at the end of the story?
  2. Is the tree happy?
  3. If you were the tree would you be happy? Why?
  4. Have you ever done something just to make someone happy?
  5. Does doing things to make others happy make you happy?
  6. Do you need others in order to be happy?
  7. Do you need a reason to be happy, or can you be happy for no reason at all?
  8. Can you be happy and sad at the same time?

The Missing Piece Questions for Discussion
Source: http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/The_Missing_Piece 

Topic: Happiness
The circle is unhappy with its Missing Piece.
  1. Is the circle happy before it finds its Missing Piece?
  2. What does the circle enjoy doing?
  3. Is the circle happy after it finds its Missing Piece? Why or why not?
  4. What do you want? Is it similar to what the circle wants?
  5. Why do you think the circle keeps on looking for its Missing Piece even after it left the one that fit perfectly?

Topic: Independence
The Missing Piece says to the circle, “I can be someone’s and still be my own.”
  1. Do you think that you are independent, or do you belong to someone else?
  2. Can you rely on other people and still be independent?
  3. Do you need other people to be happy?

Topic: Quest
The circle finds that it is happiest when searching for the Missing Piece.
  1. Why does the circle let go of its Missing Piece?
  2. Does the circle like searching for the Missing Piece?
  3. What happens to the circle while it looks for the Missing Piece?
  4. Is the journey more fun than the destination?

Static and Dynamic

I have also used Shel Silverstein poems for the last nine years to introduce static and dynamic characters to my students. This lesson is obviously close to my heart so I look forward to it each year!

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